Karaoke Screenings, Cosplay and "Repeaters" Keep 'Bohemian Rhapsody' Fever Alive in Japan

BOHEMIAN RHAPSODY Still - Publicity - H 2019
Courtesy of Twentieth Century Fox

The Queen biopic has now spent 13 weeks in the box office top five charts and is one of the biggest Hollywood films in Japan since 2000 and the biggest IMAX release to date.

Sing-along screenings, Queen cosplay and customers who have seen it multiple times, have pushed Bohemian Rhapsody past $100 million in Japan and turned it into something of a social phenomenon.

Last week was the 13th that the Queen biopic spent in the top five of the Japanese box office charts since its Nov. 9 release, when it pulled in a strong but not spectacular $4.6 million on its opening weekend. Despite mixed reviews overseas, Bohemian Rhapsody quickly resonated with Japanese fans, particularly women, and ordinary cinemagoers and celebrities took to social media to sing its praises. But it is viewers who have seen the film more than once — also known in Japanese-English as repeaters — who have really driven the box office.

"I wasn't a big fan of Queen before, though I knew their songs, which is true for a lot of people I know who loved the film," said Miyako Sato, a Tokyo homemaker who has seen it four times, taking her husband twice and her nine-year-old son three times. "My son now likes Bohemian Rhapsody even more than [anime] Dragon Ball or One Piece."

Having fallen in love with the Live Aid scene, which she describes as "unforgettable," on her first viewing, Sato bought a Queen CD to learn the lyrics and promptly went to watch it again. Fans like her propelled the soundtrack album and Queen Jewels (a best-of album first released 14 years ago in Japan) to first and second place on the album charts in December, making Queen the first non-Japanese act to ever manage such a double. The soundtrack album remained at number three on last week's album charts.

Bohemian Rhapsody was also the most popular song over the New Year period at Karaoke DAM, one of Japan's biggest chains of karaoke parlors, with Queen songs accounting for half of their top 10 chart at one point. The song was also ubiquitous at year-end and New Year parties across the country.

Japanese cinemagoers are famously quiet and leaving the theater before the final credits have rolled is widely seen as disrespectful to the film and inconsiderate to fellow viewers. But audiences have taken to Bohemian Rhapsody so fervently that Toho, Japan's biggest distributor, has organized hundreds of screenings where audiences can sing along, clap and cheer, as well as dress up as Freddie Mercury or other band members if the mood takes them. For the musical portions, the usual Japanese subtitles at these screenings are replaced with English subs to allow the audience to sing along.

Queen were not unknown in Japan — they first toured in 1975, a time when they had yet to find international stardom, and songs such as "We Will Rock You" have been used in TV commercials — but the success of the film in the country is something few could have predicted.

Bohemian Rhapsody has become the biggest domestic or imported film of 2018, and entered the box office top ten of Hollywood releases since 2000. It is also Japan's biggest IMAX release to date, surpassing Star Wars: The Force Awakens with $11 million taken at screenings in the format.

And it may still have some box office legs left.

Having recently bought a Queen live DVD, Sato says she is looking for a chance to see Freddie and the boys again, "this time at one of the theaters with a really good audio system."